It is a known fact that in the Claretian mission of Maluso, Basilan, there are more Muslims than Christians. But the Claretians have not only worked for these two major groups in that town. They have also endeavored to uplift the lives of a tiny and marginalized group of indigenous people found in the area – the Samal-Badjao.
Of all the indigenous groups present in the Philippine archipelago, the Samal-Badjao community is considered to be one of the most vulnerable and yet the least cared for by society. In fact, in the island of Basilan, they are at the lowest rung of the social stratum and are victims of abuses and exploitation by their neighbors.
Preferring to live close to the water, the sea-dwelling Samal-Badjaos in Maluso have established their community in a coastal area not far from the vicinity of the convent and parish church under the pastoral care of the Claretians. They live in houses of stilts built about shallow waters along the coast of Maluso. Because of their abject poverty, the Samal-Badjaos have to make do with the cheapest materials available to them to build their homes. Living in the sea renders them vulnerable to strong rains and wind and their houses are only capable of providing shade from the heat of the sun.
Because of their pacifist nature and lack of education, the Samal-Badjaos are easy prey to the more learned and civilized neighbors who surround them. Their means of livelihood are limited to traditional fishing and sewing of mats. They are often the victims of piracy where whatever meager catch they have for the day is often taken from them at gunpoint. They also do not have the opportunity to avail of better and bigger boats that they could use for fishing because if they do they only run the risk of being eyed by men with weapons and firearms who can easily take their new boats from them. Being by nature pacifists, the Samal-Badjaos do not know of violence, and are, therefore, not wont to retaliate or fight back to defend themselves.
These people are the least educated and the most malnourished and undernourished people in the town of Maluso. And if one were to consider the inaccessibility of their community by foot, then it could be said that they seem to be outcasts in the society where they are situated.
The Claretians in Basilan for the past three years have been involved in helping the Samal-Badjaos. The Claret Samal foundation has been established for this purpose – to uplift the plight of the Badjao. It was founded in the year 1997, then under the auspices of Fr. Nestor Banga, CMF. He was succeeded by Fr. Leo Dalmao, CMF who served as Program Director from 1998 until the first few months of the year 2000. Today, the Foundation is being directed by Bro. Arnel Alcober, CMF and the current Claret Badjao Development Program is being implemented with the aid of Manos Unidas.
The goal of the program is to guide and help the Samal-Badjaos strengthen their sense of identity and build a just and harmonious community where there is quality of life founded on their indigenous culture. At present, the two main thrusts of the program are community organization and education. Through community organizing, the Claretians have slowly and painstakingly built up the sense of self-dignity of the Samal-Badjaos. Coupled with education programs, the Claretians have made tremendous progress in improving the quality of life of these indigenous people.
A school exclusively for Samal-Badjaos has been established close to the convent where currently 35 students are enrolled. Education is slowly becoming a value for them, with the children’s parents giving their spirited support and encouragement. The problem of inaccessibility of the community by foot is now solved with the construction of a foot bridge linking the village by the sea to the main roads of Maluso.
The Christians of Maluso are also very much involved by volunteering as school teachers and community organizers. They also extend their help in other programs undertaken by the Claret Samal Foundation which includes an Adult Literacy Program, Feeding Programs, Health Education, and the Provision of Social Services such as Medical Missions.
The Claretians continue to work for the least in God’s Kingdom with the conviction of bringing comfort and dignity tot he lives of the Samal-Badjaos.